Friday, March 24, 2017

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

            Shabbat Shalom. I have a confession that’s mildly embarrassing to talk about from the bima, but since I spoke directly about this with one of you, I feel this is a safe space to admit it. I still love playing the Sims. I have multiple expansion packs for my Sims3 to play on my PC when I get some down time, and I also bought Sims4 when it was on super sale around New Years, though I haven’t gotten into it yet. I really dislike some of the changes to the game play, so I’ve only played around a little bit with it in the last few months. In the computer game, you can create your own people, design their look, and create relationships. This aspect of the game is something that has supposedly been vastly improved in Sims4. You can add a lot more nuanced options to your characters and their relationships now. You can create your own home, design the blueprints and decorate it to look however you want, especially if you know the money cheat code and money is no object. Sims4 surprisingly did not improve this aspect, and actually made some options that are freely available in the Sims3 cost more money in Sims4. Once your family and home are completely made you can “start” playing (as though this act of creation doesn’t count as playing). I love the actual “playing” of Sims3, and often go through three generations of the same family before I get bored and want to start over. Many people, however, have expressed supreme boredom with this part, saying they’ll play with a family for a few hours, maybe spread over a couple of days, but then they’ll go back and create a new family and house. The creative act is the fun part of the game for a lot of people, which may be why the Sims4 continues to be successful in spite of its aspects that I find deficient.
            I remember a few years ago, my cousin was telling me about the family she had been babysitting, and the game that the kids were playing (first version the Sims), and she described the game as “playing G-d.” At the time, that seemed like a fair way to explain the Sims and a close enough approximation to my understanding of G-d. Let’s look at this week’s Torah portion, though, and we see a view of G-d that doesn’t fit the “Sims mold” so well. The past few weeks have been about the building of the Tabernacle, culminating in this week, when G-d finally settles in into this new Divine Home. G-d commands Moses to tell the people to bring forth anything they have that will be useful in building the Tabernacle. G-d appoints Bezalel and Ohaliab to be the head architects. G-d puts the creative act onto the people to build. G-d does not construct the perfect home for G-dself like a game of Sims. G-d appoints us, humans with free will and minds of our own, to create something for G-d. In the wilderness, in the Torah, it is the Tabernacle. Today, it is our community.
            We are not Sims. G-d may be watching, and G-d may be sending us messages, and there may be some grand Divine plan to the universe, but we are not being directly controlled by an unseen force like a person sitting and clicking away at the various templates on a computer game. We know this because if we were being so controlled, would the Israelite people have built and worshipped the golden calf and angered G-d, only a short time before building G-d this beautiful home? I believe that as humans, we each have our own set unique skills, talents, needs, and interests, an ability for each of us to be “wise-hearted men and women,” as the this parasha identifies the Israelites who contribute to the Mishkan. We each bring something important and specific to build the Tabernacle, to build our community. It is up to each of us to be ourselves, to work together to the best of our abilities, to bring our community to life, to have a beautiful space to dwell in, because there is no computer program making these decisions for us, building our houses and clicking “Go to School” or “Express Fondness” for us to make sure we do what we’re supposed to do.
            So I play the Sims a lot, maybe specifically because real life is so not the Sims. In the Sims, you can have complete control over the universe you create, and that is comforting. But the real universe would be boring if we could do that. Although it is sometimes hard to deal with the unknowable and the uncontrollability of life and community building, we know from this week’s Torah portion that that is what G-d wants of us. For us to deal with the unknown and uncontrollable, to create, to work together, to figure it out for ourselves as we go along. It is hard, but it is far more rewarding than a happy Sims family. May you all find the patience and self-confidence required to go out in life and deal with the unknown and uncontrollable, to create art, community, and holy spaces. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

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